Friday, 26 February 2021 13:51

Preparing to Un-Furlough

We now have the Government’s cautious, 4-step Roadmap out of lockdown. Schools will return from 8th March although little else is changing at that time and the stay at home message continues until the end of March. Despite this, businesses at least have a framework around which they can formulate a plan to resume some semblance of normality.

It’s likely to be some months yet before we see businesses fully returning all employees to the workplace, if indeed that is their goal. Some of our own clients, in consultation with their employees, have already made the decision to do away with their offices entirely; if not immediately then as soon as a break in their leases allow. Whilst others have strongly confirmed their intentions to retain their work premises.

The Chancellor has promised that furlough will last until the end of April but the suspicion is that it will be extended again for those industries that continue to have restrictive trading terms imposed, such as hospitality and leisure. For others, the end of furlough will force those difficult decisions regarding employees that the furlough scheme has enabled them to delay.

The details of the Government’s continuing financial support package for the economy won’t be fully revealed until the Chancellor’s budget next week. However, the coming weeks and months is a time for organisations to formulate and implement their plans to return. This must involve strategies for re-engaging employees back to a working environment.

Remember that some employees may not have done any work for months. And whilst working from home has been adopted by many, the old workplace may still seem like a new or alien environment. As we plan our returns, we need to adopt a structured and consistent approach to ensure employees are treated equally and fairly. You might want to consider some of the following:

  • Give employees as much notice as possible: This should go without saying but don’t fall into the trap of keeping your return to work plan a big secret that only senior managers have access to. Keep everyone informed and even celebrate your plan so that everyone has plenty of time to get used to the idea of coming back to work and the positives that it will bring.

  • Hold return to work interviews: We recommend a return to work interview for every return from absence anyway. Working from home and furlough should be no different. Use the meeting to check the employee’s physical health, mental health along with any concerns they have about returning. You could arrange this prior to your official start date, virtually on Teams or Zoom if necessary but in person would be better. Staging onsite meetings over a period of time will enable you to maintain social distancing amongst employees.

  • Offer re-familiarisation days: Give employees the chance to come in and have a look around so they can acquaint themselves again with the workplace and understand any changes you have made to keep people safe. You may have had to redesign workplace layout or introduce work pods or one-way systems. Pre-acclimatising will void any of the confusion we usually associate with “first day at big-school”.
  • Plan and communicate any rotas or shifts: If you’re bringing people back on a rota or shift basis to keep them socially distanced, make sure you’ve worked out who is working with who and clearly communicate when people will be required for work. For business efficacy you’ll need to ensure that people who rely on each other are working together. Also make sure that staff understand the importance of any “air locks” in between shifts and don’t turn up to work too early or leave too late.

  • If you’re one of the businesses that will be consolidating working from home options as part of your ongoing practices and employee engagement strategy, make sure your contracts and handbooks reflect any changes, keep you compliant and work in your favour when you need it. You may need to include right of access to an employee’s home to retrieve company equipment if and when they leave, for example.
  • You may still have employees who don’t want to return to work. You’ll need a plan to manage these people. Consider I advance the process you are going to follow to ensure consistency across the company and how to resolve issues including AWOL employees and those who don’t want to return.

  • If redundancies seem inevitable, don’t delay. It’s only fair that your staff get as much opportunity as possible to look for new jobs. It would be far worse to tell them on the day that they are expecting to return that there is no position for them to come back to. You can still consult with employees about potential redundancy during furlough. If you do need to action redundancies then notice can be issued whilst staff are furloughed. However you can’t use furlough remuneration to cover pay during the notice period, which needs to be at 100%.

  • Don’t forget your basic Health & Safety. If buildings or work spaces have been empty for a while you may need to test that everything is working to standard and is safe. Fire alarm systems checks are obvious but consider a report that the rat population increased by 25% last year. Check for vermin infestation and also that that telephone and electrical cables haven’t been gnawed through by rodents.

For any help or support with any of the above from planning your return, communicating it with staff or making redundancies, we’re available on 01452 331331 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Read 1143 times Last modified on Friday, 26 February 2021 13:52


HR Champions provide first class HR and Employment Law support and advice to UK businesses; operationally and strategically. If you're an employer you'll potentially need some, if not all, of the services we offer.

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